The Notre Dame College track team's Mardi Gras party took place the first Saturday of November. Everyone was supposed to come in costume, but only the newbies ever did.
In the Petersen dormitory, freshman basketball player Carl Wolfe was preparing for the night. The tall, cocky blond with the stringy physique of a marathoner had arrived at the South Euclid school last fall, ready to rule court and campus.
"He weighed 130 pounds sopping wet, with eight levels of clothing on," says teammate Jeff Johnson. "But that didn't stop him from acting like he was this big man on campus. He thought very highly of himself."
Back home in Pomeroy, a small town in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio, Wolfe had been a stud. He was a member of the National Honor Society, the son of the coach and athletic director, one of the top scorers in school history, and the senior-class flirt. He didn't have to do much to impress people. "He just thought his basketball skills would win the girls over," says Zack Dunham, a former classmate.
But at Notre Dame, things were different. Wolfe wasn't scoring with the basketball coach or the girls. He was getting a reputation -- it just wasn't the one he'd hoped for.
"We called him Creepy Carl, Crazy Carl," says sophomore Marty Kilmer. "He was socially awkward. I'd say, 'Hey,' and he'd keep following me to the room."
He was also aggressive in his skirt-chasing. Teammates say he went into "pimp mode" around women and took rejection as an invitation.
But all that was history tonight. Carl had a party to go to. He was taking a date, a high school hottie he'd recently met in Athens. At the party, Wolfe fed her beer after beer. She was so drunk, partygoers say, she couldn't lift her head.
Around 1:30 a.m., Wolfe brought the girl back to his dorm room. She started throwing up blood. Carl's roommate wanted to call an ambulance, but Wolfe intervened, saying he'd take care of the situation himself, dormmates recall. But the resident assistant heard the commotion and called paramedics, who rushed the girl to the hospital, where her stomach was pumped.
At first, school police tossed it off as another college drinking episode. What they weren't aware of was Wolfe's history with women.
Dean of Students Patty O'Toole knew, but she wasn't talking.
Notre Dame has a quiet intimacy. Its lecture halls have steeply slanting roofs, suggesting the outlines of a cathedral, and its dorms have wide, gaping windows that overlook the statue of Mary in the middle of the quad. The only sign of commercialism is in the library, where a small café sells Starbucks coffee.
The college began as an all-girls school in 1922, with just 24 students. By the 1970s, about 600 girls roamed the floors of Alumnae Hall (now the Petersen dorm) and tanned themselves on the grass outside Clara Fritzsche library. But as times advanced, the school didn't. Enrollment kept dwindling, and the college could barely afford to keep its doors open. Notre Dame needed a drastic change.
In 2001, the school went coed. Two years later, it brought in Dr. Andrew Roth from Mercyhurst College in Erie to lead a restructuring. "When I came in, the college was financially fragile," he says.
He immediately got to work soliciting new students. His success is visible in the numbers: Three years later, enrollment is up 66 percent -- to 1,411 students.
But if the face of the school was changing, its interior still showed its age. Notre Dame wasn't prepared for the influx. Its guidelines and policies remained geared to an era when girls had to wear skirts that covered their knees.
The same year the school went coed, Notre Dame had its first report of a sexual assault. The case is now sealed, but the lawyer for the victim says that the law required the college to create guidelines for dealing with sexual assaults. A security expert recommended that more cameras be installed to increase security.
But those changes never happened. Discipline for sexual assault was no greater than that for plagiarism or failure to leave a building during a fire alarm, according to the student handbook.
Patty O'Toole was part of the new order. In 2002, she was hired as the dean of student development. The bubbly, empathetic educator ate hamburgers with students at lunch and played pool with them in the rec hall. Students, in turn, looked upon her as one of their own.
"I wasn't doing well in math and was in danger of failing," says freshman Bjanka Vrazalica. "I didn't tell anyone about it, though. Out of nowhere, Patty came up to me in the hallway and said, 'Hey, Bjanka, I heard you've been having some trouble in class.'"
O'Toole had checked with Vrazalica's professors to see how the Croatian native was doing. O'Toole's tutelage prevented her from failing, Vrazalica believes.
Others knew that the dean could be trusted with sensitive information. She handled situations with the calm, authoritative style of a military nurse.
"Freshman year, there was a girl on the basketball team whose father we suspected of abusing her," says senior Kristi Wendolowski. "When we didn't know what to do, we talked to Patty."
But detractors argue that this close connection had a downside. O'Toole desperately wanted to protect her students -- even if it meant endangering others.
Last October, she received a lengthy letter from a student claiming to have been sexually assaulted.
The girl had invited a male student to her room to watch TV. She dozed off for a bit. When she awoke, she found the student straddling her. He slid his hands under her bra and down her pants. She tried to kick him out, but he wouldn't leave. So she tried to bolt. When she ran for the door, he stepped in front of her and pushed her back into the room.
For the next several hours, she lay in her bed, quivering, as the student continued watching television. At 9 a.m. he left, warning the girl not to say anything. A week and a half later, the girl received a text message from him, requesting a meeting. She ignored the message.
A few days later, she received a threatening letter blaming her for the attacks and warning her not to tell anyone. It was her own fault, the suspect wrote. You wanted it. She was terrified.
The girl begged O'Toole not to tell anyone, according to administrators. So the dean didn't report the incident to police, nor did the school investigate. (O'Toole refused comment for this story.)
But later that month, a second girl came to the dean with a similar story. She was in the TV lounge, watching a movie with a male student. The lights were off and the door was closed. The boy asked her if she would ever date a white guy -- and if she would ever consider dating him.
"Yes," the girl says she replied. "You seem like a nice guy."
The boy went for the kiss. But the hook-up soon started getting rough. The boy pinned the girl's arms to her side, she claims. She felt uncomfortable and tried to push him away, but he was too strong. She told him to stop.
"Don't worry," the boy said. Then he slipped his hand down her pajamas and inserted a finger. The girl kicked him away and ran for the door.
Police records indicate that Jody Tucker, the head of Residence Life, Nicole Blade, a resident assistant, and O'Toole met with the victim. The girl didn't want to pursue criminal charges. But she did identify her attacker. Administrators started an internal investigation.
From the beginning, however, it didn't seem as if they believed the girl's story. According to police reports, O'Toole stated that the "victim seemed confused about when the incident had occurred." Instead of questioning the suspect herself, O'Toole had the young resident assistant do it.
Police reports say the RA asked the suspect where he was at the end of October. When the boy told her that he wasn't on campus, the investigation was apparently dropped.
The next weekend, a high school girl spent a night in the hospital having her stomach pumped.
During the '90s, Notre Dame used private security companies to police the campus. It didn't have much luck.
An officer from Industrial Security allegedly exposed himself to students. The university was sued and the company was fired.
A guard from Pinkerton reportedly made repeated racist comments.
A guard from Gray Security was caught with his pants down in the student center. Officials believe he'd been masturbating.
And though officers from T.D. Security were told not to carry arms, a few were caught carrying weapons. One kept a firearm strapped to his ankle.
Frustrated, Notre Dame hired Dan Graham as its new police chief in 1997. The baby-faced man with a body builder's physique had been a police officer in North Randall and Northfield Village. The school gave him free rein to recruit the first class of trained police on campus.
Eight years later, on November 22, Graham was sitting in his office when Jody Tucker walked in, looking distressed. Tucker asked Graham whether he'd heard anything about a sexual assault involving a member of the school's dance team.
"No," Graham said, grabbing a pen to scribble down the victim's name. Later that afternoon, he called O'Toole to inform her of the investigation.
Graham wasn't looking forward to the call. The two had a tense relationship dating back several months, mostly due to O'Toole's habit of helping students at the expense of police. She'd once tipped off a student about an impending room search, Graham says. The student had been accused of taking someone's wallet.
Another time, she refused to give up dorm sign-in sheets when Graham was investigating campus drug activities.
Graham called to tell O'Toole about the investigation. There was a short pause. Then O'Toole dropped her bomb: She told Graham that she knew of two other assaults. He should be aware of them, she continued, for "statistical purposes."
The normally garrulous Graham was speechless. "Two sexual assaults occurred on campus that we didn't know about," he says. "We never had the opportunity to investigate them. And a threat could still be out there."
He asked for the names of the victims, but O'Toole refused to provide them, stating that the students wanted to remain anonymous.
Graham spent hours fuming over what he considered blatant disregard for student safety. It was not only illogical, but likely illegal. Federal law requires administrators to issue a "timely warning" to students as soon as they learn about a perceived danger.
Three days later, Graham penned a four-page letter to O'Toole, Roth, and Vice President John Phillips, expressing his disgust with the handling of the situation. For failing to report the incident, Notre Dame could be fined $27,000 and have its federal aid taken away, he wrote.
Ten minutes later, Graham received a hysterical call from O'Toole. She claimed that she hadn't kept the episodes quiet. "I told John Phillips about this," she said.
(Phillips concedes that O'Toole met with him about "confidential student issues," but claims that she never told him about sexual assaults. He says he told O'Toole to report the incidents to Graham.)
Graham assigned Lieutenant Todd Mitchell, an enthusiastic officer with muscled forearms and fuzzy brown hair, to help him investigate. Over the next few weeks, the two repeatedly pressed O'Toole for information. Both say that she was wholly uncooperative.
At the insistence of Phillips, O'Toole finally turned over a bare-bones four-line summary of the first assault. But there were no names, says Graham, nor did O'Toole mention either the four-page letter the victim had written or the threatening letter the girl had received.
"It was another incidence of Patty withholding information," says Mitchell.
Frustrated, Graham brought in John Saraya of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Only then did O'Toole supply the information.
In December, the one victim who'd previously refused to name her attacker finally identified him to Graham. The chief was horrified. Both victims had named the same person -- Carl Wolfe.
That night, December 12, Graham stormed into Roth's office, where he was meeting with Phillips.
"I need to speak to both of you immediately," he recalls saying. "The two rape victims both named the same suspect."
Roth nearly fell out of his chair. According to Graham, the pale-faced president asked Phillips, "How much insurance do we have?"
During the evening of December 12, students found a memo that Jody Tucker, the head of Residential Life, had slipped under their doors. He wished them good luck on their finals, then informed them that television reporters had visited Notre Dame, interviewing students about sexual assaults on campus. No one should worry, he assured them, since these reports were under "investigation by the Notre Dame police," and "All reported incidences involved people who knew each other."
Students learned from television news reports that the assaults had occurred two months before. Some were furious at what they considered a cover-up.
"It was outrageous that we had to have a television station inform us of stuff happening in our own campus," says senior Eric Janik.
Administrators maintain that they were not trying to cover up anything. "The campus was informed as soon as it was brought to the level of our attention," insists Roth. He claims it was "coincidence" that the college's warning happened on the same day the newscasts aired.
But the news only prompted another round of assault reports to police. They all had one thing in common: Carl Wolfe.
One girl reported that Wolfe had been making her uncomfortable since the beginning of the year. He once grabbed her shirt and pushed her onto a couch.
She didn't know what would have happened if a friend hadn't pulled her away.
Another girl reported that Wolfe had grabbed her arm in the computer lab late one night and tried to force her to come back to his room.
A third reported that she'd been sexually assaulted by Wolfe in her dorm room that fall. Wolfe had forced his hands up her nightshirt and down her pants, despite her repeated objections.
All told, there were now six complaints against him. (The reported rape of a dance-team member was not linked to Wolfe.) "I felt physically sick," says Mitchell.
Administrators held heated discussions about what to do with Wolfe. Graham wanted him kicked out. Roth was worried about the student's rights.
It turned out to be a moot point.
Wolfe had already been accepted to attend Defiance College that winter. On December 13, police escorted him off campus.
As he was leaving, he shouted out to students, "I'm innocent. I'm going to start a group on Facebook [a networking site for students]. Who's going to join my group?" (Wolfe did not respond to repeated interview requests.)
Later that month, O'Toole was put on paid leave.
"It's our understanding that she made a mistake, which will never happen on this campus again," says Roth. "But she did it for the best of motives. She did it to protect the students."
As students arrived back on campus in January, Notre Dame did its best to make them feel safe. It held open forums and a sexual-assault awareness week. By February, O'Toole had handed in her resignation.
If that didn't appease students, surely a sunny summary of the investigation would. Notre Dame News ran a story headlined "A Learning Experience for College Community: Seven sexual assaults reported since October 2005/President Roth believes campus is still safe."
Throughout the semester, Roth was quick to classify the incidents not as sexual assaults, but as a "handful of acquaintance rapes" -- as if they were lesser crimes.
The only way to deal with acquaintance rape, he says, is "through educational awareness and a heightened sense of personal responsibility."
But students construed it to mean that the girls were responsible. On one bulletin board, a flier read, "Stop Rape. Just Say Yes." It was signed "President Roth."
Police and women's groups weren't happy with the president either.
"In the majority of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses -- 80-90 percent of them -- the alleged victim knows the alleged perpetrator," says Melody Drnach of the National Organization for Women. "What this does is send a message that there are different categories of rape, and some are more or less serious. The truth is, 'no' means no, and 'rape' is rape."
Lieutenant Mitchell agrees. "When I heard him say that female students have to take responsibility for who they let in their room, it about knocked me off my chair," he says, shaking his head. "That's just flagrant. The president is blaming the victim."
At the same time, relations were becoming more tense between administrators and school police.
The rift had been fermenting since last October, when police cited a student for driving with a suspended license. They towed his car, fined him, and warned him not to drive on campus again.
But instead of backing their cops, administrators reimbursed the student for towing costs and told the police to leave him alone.
Two months later, officer Brian Rozek disobeyed the administration order and pulled the student over. The kid fled the scene, running to his dorm, where he slammed his door in the officer's face. Rozek filed criminal charges.
Notre Dame wasn't happy. "The campus police force must act differently than a municipal one," Phillips explains. "This was private property here. We're not policing the streets of South Euclid."
Officers claim that Phillips threatened them, saying that if they didn't drop the charges, their jobs were at stake. (Phillips disputes this. "I wanted to understand their motivation," he claims. "It was a very open conversation.")
Lieutenant Mitchell and Graham both vividly recall T.J. Arrant, the vice president for academic affairs, telling them, "If you guys let this indictment go forward, a firebomb will unleash on your department." (Arrant denies saying this, claiming that he had a "good relationship" with the police.)
In February, the student was indicted. One month later, officers began to hear rumblings that the force would be disbanded. On February 10, a couple of days after what he calls "the last threat," Chief Graham resigned. "I believed they were about to fire me for enforcing the law," he says. "I could no longer morally and ethically do my job."
On the morning of April 12, officers were told to report to the student activity center. Phillips was sitting in the center of the room with his legs crossed. His face looked as gray as his suit.
In a solemn voice, the vice president thanked the cops for their stellar work, then told them that most of the 20-person department would be let go. A private security company would patrol the campus.
Officers saw it as an attempt to blame police for the assaults. Students were outraged.
"They keep talking about wanting to make the school safer, but this move doesn't make any sense at all," says freshman Zach Senell. "They're replacing trained police with inexperienced guards, whose only weapons are a walkie-talkie and a cell phone."
Students passed around petitions to save the force. When one RA attempted to join the protest, administrators warned him that his job was at stake, police claim.
The college was supposed to present a unified front, Arrant responds. When the RA disagreed, "It sent a confusing message to the residents."
Notre Dame denies that the firings have anything to do with the sexual assaults.
"They're two separate issues," Roth says. "There's no cause or effect."
According to administrators, police never blended with the campus. They were too quick to prosecute students, when administrators believed that issues could be dealt with internally.
On March 6, the police force was effectively disbanded.
The case against Carl Wolfe has been turned over to the prosecutor's office, and a decision on whether to indict is expected soon. He is now a full-time student at Defiance College, where one administrator, who insisted on anonymity, said the school is "aware" of his situation.
Chief Graham, the main investigator in the case, is no longer working for Notre Dame and is considering suing the school. The college may face additional lawsuits from students assaulted after administrators were aware of a threat on campus. And there remains the question of whether Notre Dame violated federal law by failing to warn students immediately.
In one short school year, the story of Notre Dame's rise from near-extinction to renewed growth has been obscured.
"If Notre Dame had taken a proactive approach and a zero-tolerance attitude to this type of behavior, there wouldn't be the appearance of a cover-up," says Lieutenant Mitchell. "If we'd been able to investigate since the first rape, several other victims wouldn't have had to go through what they did."
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